Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I reached a milestone this week.

I wrote my first book review less than three years ago. At the time, I was ranked somewhere in the 2,000,000 range among reviewers. Since that first review, I've taken a little more pride in the reviews I write, and I've improved some. I started to move up in the rankings at Amazon. And I started to enjoy writing them.

This week I finally broke into the top 1,000 reviewers on It doesn't mean anything. Now I have another little "badge" next to my name. But it was a goal, and I made it. I'm happy.

Thanks to everyone who checked off "helpful" when I requested it! :-)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Execution doesn’t live up to the premise

I’ve been reading a lot of new (and new to me) authors lately, with mixed results. Sometimes I discover a new favorite, and other times I find myself desperate to return to a familiar solid performer. Davis Bunn has written quite a few books, so that puts him in the new to me category. Unfortunately, I felt sadly let down by Gold of Kings.

It had a fun premise, an international hunt for ancient treasure. That’s almost always a winner for me. But Gold of Kings failed from the get-go, and it was more a problem of character than plot. In short, none of the characters worked for me. I don’t know if the bigger problem was that they didn’t seem real, or if they were real, but unlikable. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Our first main character is gorgeous, 25-year-old Storm Syrrell, an antiquities dealer out of Palm Beach. Art and antiquities has been the family business for generations, but Storm’s grandfather, Sean, has just died, leaving the business in dire straights. Soon, however, the question becomes did Sean die, or was he murdered? Regardless, one thing he did before his death was spring his old friend Harry Bennett from a Barbados prison. Harry had been locked up for 17 months on a trumped up charge alleging he’d been illegally bringing up treasure within Barbados’s territorial waters. His time in prison has left this “treasure dog” a changed, wary man. Regardless, he owes Sean a lot and is saddened to learn of his friend’s death. Harry’s job is to protect Storm. He and Storm team up to investigate clues Sean left behind, but even though Storm is “smoking” the author makes it very, very clear that neither is attracted to the other. No, that role is filled by our final main character, a federal agent named Emma Webb.

I could write more about the convoluted plot, but I really don’t care about it enough to do so. Bunn hasn’t written anything else we haven’t seen before. All in all, I’m afraid I found the whole thing a bit of a snooze. My recommendation is to skip this novel. You can do better.

Updates on everything...

So, lot's of stuff going on over here in Susanland. Lot's to update:
  • The Jack Kilborn book giveaway was so much fun! Thanks again to everyone who participated, and congratulations to Kristal, Amy, Mihir, Ellen, and Emily. I hope you guys enjoy the novel, and I'd love it if you'd share your thoughts after reading it. (Don't blame me if it gives you nightmares!)
  • I still hurt bad. Yes, I did break my nose, but the doctor says it's very straight and they don't have to do anything further. It will heal on it's own. I am definitely looking much better than a week ago. Better than you are imagining. But, for now, we can all enjoy my photo on this blog page. My friend David took that shot. Best. Nose. Shot. Ever.

  • Yesterday was Vine targeted newsletter day! No, I did not get offered the super high-end camcorder like some, but I scored nonetheless. As you know, I mostly choose books each month. This month I managed to snag the DVD of a movie I've been dying to see, ever since I just missed it in the theaters. It's Last Chance Harvey, starring (my fave) Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Equally exciting, I snagged a galley of The Girl Who Played with Fire. It's the sequel of the wonderful Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson. Free gifts like this do help cheer an invalid up. I can't wait to dive into both!

  • The only small disappointment from the newsletter was having to pass up a galley of Jimbo's next novel, The Doomsday Key. I'm sorry, Jimbo! The other items were too good to resist. But I am 1/4 of the way throught the Doomsday Key MS you sent, and I'm loving it. I'm so grateful you're such a prolific writer. Jake Ransom got me through the asthma attack, and now Doomsday Key will see me through another tough time. I'm really looking forward to Alter of Eden in the fall, but I fear for my health!
  • I maligned Glen David Gold's second novel, Sunnyside. I wrote a long post about how disappointed I was in the first 150 pages and put it aside for a while. Well, sometimes a break is all you need. I had picked it up again a couple of weeks ago and breezed through another 100 pages with fresh and more appreciative eyes. I was making progress, and then I fell and hurt myself again. Sunnyside isn't really light reading to go with a side of Vicodin, so it's on hold again. I will finish it eventually!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A century of secrets and lies, tangled like the brambles in The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden: A Novel
by Kate Morton

Life has dealt me an unfortunate amount of pain of late. More than vicodin, I needed a really great novel to take my mind off injuries. Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden was just what the doctor ordered! It is a triumph of non-linear storytelling, and the epic tale being told carried me away.

The catalyst driving the story is Nell Andrews. Nell grew up loved and happy in a house full of sisters in Australia. All that changed on the night of her 21st birthday. That was the night that her father confessed the secret that upended Nell’s life—he had found her abandoned at the age of four. She’d been left dockside of a ship that had just come from England. She didn’t know, or wouldn’t divulge, her name and no one came for her. He took her home that night, and he and Nell’s mother had raised her as their own.

That revelation changed the course of Nell’s life, but she never had the opportunity to seriously investigate the mystery of her origins until after her father’s death, when she was in her mid-sixties. She made significant progress, but never fully unraveled the truth. As the novel opens, we first meet four-year-old Nell, then 21-year-old Nell, and then the dying 95-year-old Nell. She’s being attended by her devoted granddaughter Cassandra. Cassandra was largely raised by Nell and was closer to her than anyone, but knew nothing of Nell’s secret until after her death. Cassandra’s even more surprised to learn that she’s been left a cottage in Cornwall, England that Nell had secretly owned for years. So begins Cassandra’s quest to finish unraveling the mystery of Nell’s life.

The story jumps back and forth in time, not just between Nell’s and Cassandra’s investigations, but between the actual events that took place between 1900 and 1913 when Nell was abandoned. There is a rich cast of characters from the gothic past, and the story that gradually unfolds is complex, compelling, and utterly gripping. There’s even a cameo by Mrs. Hodgson Burnett herself! I plowed through the nearly 600 pages in record time, and only wish it had lasted longer.
I very much enjoyed Morton’s debut, The House at Riverton. This sophomore effort seals the deal; I’ve become a devoted fan. The Forgotten Garden is one of those books that I just feel so good about recommending to almost everyone. It’s a contemporary mystery, a Victorian drama, a novel of tragedy and triumph, and more than anything else a spellbinding story from start to finish.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oops, I did it again...

I'm going to be brief, because typing is a problem at the moment. I fell--again. And hurt myself pretty badly--again. Apparently, my one instinct was to protect my bad leg. I suceeded. It's the only part of my body that doesn't hurt at the moment. Right now I have a:
  • badly bruised and abraded chin
  • swollen lower lip
  • abraded, lacerated, and quite possibly broken nose
  • sprained and splinted left wrist
  • banged up left knee
  • a bunch of sore muscles almost everywhere
So, I can barely type and talking hurts. I may be on radio silence for the next few days. :-(


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Frightening Free Fiction and a Free Book Giveaway!

So, it’s pretty common knowledge that I spend a lot of time with writers. I have many, many novelist friends—despite the fact that I believe having stories floating around inside your head is a sure sign of mental illness. If ever there were an example of this, it would probably be Joe Konrath.

You may know Joe as J.A. Konrath, the androgynously-named author of the Jack Daniels mysteries. Or, you may know him as Jack Kilborn, the pseudonymously-named author of the recent horror-thriller Afraid. I know him as Joe, the loud guy I met through my buddy Jimbo. Joe and I aren’t close friends, but we’ve spent a fair amount of time together and it’s always entertaining. Joe is a fun guy and like many fungi, he grows on you. (I’ll pause now for groans.)

I can’t tell you what’s wrong with Joe, all I know is that he is one sick puppy. When I sent him a copy of my review of Afraid, I told him that I wasn’t getting in a car alone with him again. Hmmm, now that I think of it, maybe that was the impetus…

Joe, writing as Jack Kilborne, has teamed up with the equally talented and sick Blake Crouch to write Serial. On his own blog (, Joe describes it like this:

Remember the twin golden rules of hitchhiking?

# 1: Don’t go hitchhiking, because the driver who picks you up could be certifiably crazy.

# 2: Don’t pick up hitchhikers, because the traveler you pick up could be a raving nutcase.

So what if, on some dark, isolated road, Crazy #1 offered a ride to Nutcase #2?

When Blake Crouch (DESERT PLACES, ABANDONED) and Jack Kilborn (AFRAID, TRAPPED), face off, the result is SERIAL, a terrifying tale of hitchhiking gone terribly wrong. Like a deeply twisted version of an “After School Special,” SERIAL is the single most persuasive public service announcement on the hazards of free car rides.

Beyond a thrilling piece of horrifying suspense, SERIAL is also a groundbreaking experiment in literary collaboration. Kilborn wrote the first part. Crouch wrote the second. And they wrote the third together over email in 100-word exchanges, not aware of each other’s opening section. All bets were off, and may the best psychopath win.

I haven’t had a chance to read Serial yet—and I have mixed feelings about doing so, because Joe’s really creepy stuff tends to freak me out—but I will surely do so soon. Happily, he and Blake are offering Serial as a free e-book. It’s only about 40 pages long, so you can easily read it in the office while pretending to work. Here's a link to the free e-book:

(On that page, Serial is located under "Book Extras" in the bottom right-hand corner.)

Here’s one more thing that’s really cool. Joe’s publisher Hachette has kindly offered me five copies of his debut Jack Kilborn novel Afraid to give away in a contest. It’s open to anyone in the U.S. or Canada, and the books will be sent directly from the publisher. As you may have gathered from my review (which is the very first on his Amazon page) Afraid isn’t for all readers, but it’s getting mostly rave reviews. (And, yes, I really did send my mom a copy for Mother's Day.) If you’re a fan of thrills and chills, it’s well worth checking out—especially for the bargain price of FREE! To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post expressing your interest and make sure I can email you if you win. I’ll leave this open until Monday, May 18th, and will then draw five random winners from all entries. Good luck!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Dinosaur and the Kindle

I am not a gadget girl. I am not an early adopter. I am a dinosaur. I am in love with books. I like the feel of them, the smell of them, and I am a passionate supporter of independent booksellers. I am the last person in the world who would buy a Kindle. However, Amazon likes me. They gave me a free Kindle 2 as a reward for services rendered. Well, who would turn that down?

Here’s the shocker… I LOVE it! I can’t even believe how much I love my Kindle. A friend of mine wrote a detailed critique of the first Kindle, and I have to say that the new design is a vast improvement. Aside from being slimmer and sleeker, there are plenty of places to hold the device comfortably without activating any functions. The screen is easy to read off of, and I honestly believe that I can read faster on a Kindle than I do with a traditional book. I’m not sure why. Faster page turns? What I can tell you is that it’s exceedingly comfortable and easy to read off the Kindle anywhere, but especially when you have limited space—like on public transportation. You can easily hold the Kindle and turn pages with a single hand.

The Kindle has several features that could best be described as… cool. My eyesight is fine, but I can choose the font size that suits me best. Likewise, I love the text-to-speech feature. A big frustration in my life is that I can’t work on my embroidery (I’m a dinosaur, remember?) and read at the same time. Now, I can have the Kindle read to me while I stitch. Yes, it’s sort of tinny and mechanical, but it’s still a really nice option to use occasionally. In addition to reading published books, I read a lot of unpublished manuscripts. It’s not uncommon to see me schlepping around 600 pages of loosely bound paper. The other day I had the amazing experience of forwarding an email with a manuscript attached to my dedicated Kindle address. Within seconds, the entire MS was in my Kindle, formatted and ready to go. Amazing! I can even make notes on the MS in the machine.

However, possibly the best thing about the Kindle is the fact that I can get internet access for free, almost anywhere. I use it to check my email all the time now. I wouldn’t want to write a novel on the keyboard, but it’s sufficient for brief communications. Now when I go away for the weekend, I can leave my laptop at home! It also works fine for basic internet surfing.

One last thing I was unaware of is how much free or nominally-priced content there is for the Kindle. I’ve got plenty to read, and I haven’t purchased one $9.99 book yet. My first Kindle “purchases” were all free public domain titles. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle—how can you do better than that? I also read the Kindle Daily Post in the Kindle store religiously. You never know when you’ll be offered free content like a back-listed Lee Child novel or some contemporary fantasy. Other authors such as Boyd Morrison and J.A. Konrath are offering novels at prices ranging from $1 to $2 dollars, as a way to find new readers. One more favorite is the free Amazon Daily blog, which is like a fun, timely magazine with short articles that update constantly. The perfect entertainment for brief snatches of time.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Romancing the Stoma…

You know that feeling, when you look at a book’s cover, read the jacket copy, and think, “Okay, I know what to expect here.” That’s what I thought entering into Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. I was expecting some light chick-lit with a fish out of water bent. And to a degree, that’s what I got. But I also got a whole lot that I didn’t expect.

Divorced Manhattan ad exec Lila Nova is a sympathetic character, but she was… harder than I expected. As the novel opens, she’s trying to adapt to a new life alone in a featureless white box of an apartment. On a hunt for a little greenery to spruce the place up, she meets ruggedly handsome greensman, David Exley. It’s easy to buy what he’s selling, and what he’s selling is a bird-of-paradise. It’s Lila’s first tropical plant, and it brings her a peace and comfort she never would have expected. She finds herself interested in learning more about tropicals and more about the tropical plant salesman—despite his mixed signals.

Walking home one night, Lila spies a gorgeous plant in a laundromat’s window. Entering the establishment to see it closer, she enters a whimsical oasis in lower Manhattan. Warm air from the dryers and humidity from the washing machines help support a tropical paradise. There’s soft moss on the floor, grass growing on top of the machines, tropical flowers and plants of every kind hanging from the ceiling, and even animals in this urban ecosystem! The proprietor of this odd laundry is an even odder character named Armand. I expected him to be a kindly old mentor type, but Armand defied my expectations at every turn. He was fascinating, strange, disturbing, mystical, and compelling. On their first meeting, Armand gives Lila a cutting from the plant that drew her in and challenges her to grow it. He tells her if she succeeds that he’ll show her the “nine plants of desire” he keeps locked in the back room, and warns her to tell no one about them.

Infatuated Lila is indiscreet, and suddenly both Exley and the plants are gone. Lila feels terrible, and Armand uses her guilt as leverage to talk her into a frankly crazy journey to the Yucatan to hunt for replacement plants. Off-balance in Mexico, Lila meets the hot and erotic Diego, and it’s non-stop adventure, romance, and mysticism from there. I couldn’t help but think of the film Romancing the Stone, but with plants as the treasure instead of jewels.

This is a quick read. I’d be shocked if it took you more than five hours. It’s just the right length to stay light and entertaining. I have a very limited tolerance for the type of mystical mumbo jumbo that some of the characters espouse, but the plants were great and the men were hunky. So, I chose to just sit back and enjoy the scenery on this magical mystery tour.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lacking in verisimilitude and subtlety

I start each book I read full of optimism, hoping to be able to rave about it. Especially in the case of a book like Running from the Devil, a debut thriller written by a woman and featuring a female protagonist. I wanted to love it. It's true that I was racing to finish reading it. But, alas, it was only so I could be done with it and move on to something more enjoyable.

I have to admit that the opening is strong. The reader is plunged into a plane crash as seen through the eyes of the afore-mentioned female protagonist, Emma Caldridge. Emma is a biochemist working in the cosmetics industry. She had been flying to Columbia to hunt for botanicals to use in her work. While she dozed, the flight had been taken over by hijackers. Many passengers die when the plane is forced down onto a too-small landing strip. Emma is thrown clear of the wreckage, miraculously unharmed. She manages to avoid being captured with the 70 other survivors by the guerrillas that hijacked the flight. A plane-load of Americans are valuable hostages.

And so begins an epic rumble in the jungle. Emma is the wild card, trailing the guerrillas and hostages. She seems to have a hidden agenda, but we don't know what it is. To this mix, add a lone drug enforcement officer, American government and military assets, Columbian government and military assets, good and bad mercenaries, any number of drug cartels and paramilitary groups, a child soldier, some indigenous peoples, and two bomb-sniffing dogs. Shake well.

It's not a bad set-up, but I began to have problems with the novel early on. Simply put, I had a big problem with believability. Little things... When time is of the essence, why drive over to a company to acquire basic information that can be achieved with a phone call? Would the US government allow a contractor field a major press conference on his own? Call me a nit-picker, but lots and lots of these little things took me out of the story. As I got deeper and deeper into the book, the actions of the characters became so over the top I couldn't believe any of it.

My other big problem was the utter lack of subtlety in the storytelling. I could give any number of examples, but I feel like I'm droning. I don't want to imply that Ms. Freveletti has done nothing right, but it wasn't enough. I would add that is disingenuous of Morrow to market the book as featuring "the speculative-science adventure of James Rollins." As if.

Now, I'm willing to overlook any number of flaws when I'm caught up in a novel, but I never was caught up. I realize mine is the minority opinion, but by the time I reached the end, Running from the Devil was simply tedious.
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